What was your career background?
Prior to exploring funeral service, I spent 23 years working in Customer Service Management & Operations at a major book publishing company.
At what point did you consider that it may be time for a new career?
I first considered a career change in 2001, following the tragedy that befell the country on September 11 of that year. My response to this event and its aftermath led to an assessment of what it means to be a productive member of society, and the possible pursuit of a career that could give back to the community in a meaningful way.
What drew you to the Funeral Services industry?
The loss of a loved one is such a hard and, in some ways, an unfathomable thing. Since I was a child, and attended numerous wakes with my father, I've been fascinated with how people deal with death, and how they actually move on with their lives. Over time, I grew equally interested in learning about postmortem processes, and ways that human remains can respectfully nourish the earth. The biggest leap was in going from thinking I could care for the dead and the bereaved to actually doing it. Once that leap is made, there is no going back.
How did being at this stage in life affect your decision to pursue a new career?
It probably helps that I had experienced several close family deaths prior to pursuing this profession. These experiences, though I do not wish them on others, help me to relate to the families that I serve. In terms of career experience, it was daunting to think of starting out fresh and inexperienced in a new job.
How did your significant other / family / friends / colleagues react to your decision to pursue another career at this point in your life?
My friends have been unbelievably supportive throughout the process. Though my former manager at least pretended to be sorry I wanted to leave my job.
How did they react to your decision to pursue this PARTICULAR career?
Most of my friends and several acquaintances are somewhat fascinated by this career choice. It has led to some in-depth conversations that would not likely relate to any other field.
Did you find that your age and experience helped prepare you to succeed in your education?
In mortuary school, I was motivated by a dedication to seeing things through and a stubborn refusal to accept defeat. I don't believe age was a helpful factor in that regard, but experience in a corporate environment somehow made me appreciate learning about a whole new --yet very old-- world.
How did you feel about the idea of being in class with much younger students before beginning your education?
The thought of being in classes with much younger students was humbling. However, I was more apprehensive about returning to the classroom after having completed undergraduate studies more than two decades before(!). I had been a strong student in my late teens and early twenties. But there was the strong possibility that study skills would weaken with time and disuse.
Did your feelings about that change after beginning the program? If so, how?
Once I had begun mortuary studies at FINE, I found the diversity of student backgrounds and experiences to be refreshing. While the majority of students were younger than me, the faculty fostered a culture of sharing knowledge, and we came to learn from one another. There were also a number of students with civil service backgrounds, and they lent a unique perspective to my academic experience.
Has your view of the industry changed after having worked in the field for several years? If yes, how so?
Given that I have only been in the industry for the last few years, and was initially trained under a seasoned veteran funeral director, my view of the industry has not had a chance to change much. Check back in a few more years/decades!
What industry opportunities and trends do you see for the future?
In the next 5-10 years, I expect to see an increase in cremation rates, as well as less conventional types of services. As families become more dispersed, and fewer people seek religion-based funeral services, the practice of funeral service will need to adapt. Funerals could move out of funeral homes altogether, or be increasingly replaced by celebrations of life, scheduled at the convenience of families and friends.
In addition, I see there being increased interest in environmentally responsible methods of disposition. Green burial grounds and hybrid cemeteries are emerging across the country. And as the "Baby Boom" generation ages, it is quite possible that boomers will desire services that are unique to them, and respectful of their ideals. For those who care deeply about the environment, an eco-friendly disposition is a natural choice, whether it be via green burial, an urban death project-type disposition, or another method that is considerate of the ecological legacy that a person will leave after their death.
If you could give advice to others who may be considering a mid / late life career change, what would you say?
I'd encourage them to try it. Not "Just do it", but try it. Talk to a few different people who are already in their field of interest. Take a couple of courses related to it. Dip your feet, or rather mind, into the waters. If you don't, you will never know what it might be like. And it's possible you may be haunted by what could have been.
How would you describe your experience as a mortuary science student working toward your career?
Working full time while pursuing a mortuary science degree was hard work. It took a lot of dedication, discipline, and patience. It involved the sacrifice of most of a social life. In a way, these requirements helped to provide preparation for a career in funeral service. It would be very difficult for someone who did not want to seriously pursue this profession to succeed at FINE. All in all, I am grateful for the education that I received in mortuary school. It is not for everyone, but it was a very helpful and positive experience for me.
If you could sum up your career path in just 4-5 words, what would you say?
Order & hope emerge from chaos.